Jun 7, 2012

Broody Hens

"A hen on a nest" by Govert Camphuysen, 1645-1650.
No, I'm not talking about dark, moody chickens. I'm talking about birds who want to lay eggs - and do nothing else.

This year, our biggest, meanest bird (named Miss Sweets by our daughter, "to encourage her to be more nice"), has turned broody. She's been sitting in the same nesting box for weeks. She rarely gets up to eat, drink, or scratch around. She doesn't lay eggs. And if you try to remove the eggs from under her - watch out! That beak is sharp!

Sadly, we don't have room for more hens, or I'd buy some fertilized eggs for her to hatch. (Roosters are not legal to keep in town.) So all we could do is encourage Sweets to snap out of it.

We started by removing her eggs repeatedly throughout the day. (I used a toy hoe to push Sweets out of the nesting box first. I don't like getting pecked.) She still sat in the nesting box, trying to hatch the golf balls we keep there to encourage the hens to lay in the boxes, not on the hen house floor. (Super-smart, they are not.) This caused Sweets to grumble constantly at us.

Next, we tried soaking her in very cold water. Although chickens hate water, and we were loathe to make her uncomfortable, this is an old time remedy. You see, a broody hen's body temperature is very high, to help keep the eggs warm. Poor Sweets. Did I mention she'd plucked out all the feathers on her chest in order to pad her "eggs?" Unfortunately, soaking wet, she went right back to brooding in the nesting box.

Finally, we separated her from the flock, putting her in a large plastic box with holes drilled in it. We gave her food and water, but no bedding. For two days, she stood in that box; she wouldn't sit. And then, last night, we returned her to her flock. She's back to normal!

And so, life on urban "farm" returns to normal, too.

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